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The Chinese lunch box has a long history in China. Use to send food to farmers working hard in the fields.
Ever thought of packing chinese soup to the office for lunch? Packed lunches are cheaper, more nutritious and whatever goes into your lunch is totally under your control.
When I was living in Melbourne, I noticed many people eating packed lunches outdoors. They could be sitting on the grass in front of the State Library of Victoria or a bench in the park. Most of them have sandwiches. Not that I dislike sandwiches, but I prefer my lunch a little hotter and soupier (erm, is this a word?).
I think hot soup is a great lunch item, especially hearty soups with some root vegetables like carrot or potatoes. However, conventional lunch boxes are just not suitable for packing hot soupy lunches. An ideal lunch box must be leakproof and easy to carry around. It should also keep the soup hot for several hours.
Fortunately, I am not the first person to think about this.
The chinese lunch box has a long history in China. It is a tiered structure that can pack several food items including soups. Each container can have 3 to 4 stackable trays which can be stacked on top of one another. Each tray can be used as a serving bowl when it is time to eat. The top cover has a handle and a pair of clips to hold the trays tightly together.
In Singapore and Malaysia, it is commonly known as the tingkat. It is great for packing different dishes and even some soupy ones but food might grow cold especially during the cold seasons. This can be circumvented if it is kept underwrap such as a padded tote.
If you are thinking of buying a tingkat, I highly recommend the To-Go Ware 3-Tier Container. It is made of stainless steel with an extra condiment tub for dips and dressings. Pack a picnic in it and keep food separated neatly. Easy to clean and dishwasher safe.
Most tingkats are made of stainless steel or enamel.
This mean that the packed food will lose its heat fairly quickly although they can be heated up directly over heat. May not be so great for winter.
A modern variation was developed when the thermal pot was invented. This is commonly known as a vacuum pot in Singapore. It is also known as the insulated lunch box. This is essentially a vacuum pot which can fit 2 to 3 trays inside. When the cover is screwed on, it keeps the food in the trays hot. I used to pack soups in one tray and white rice in the other tray.
Zojirushi is a very trusted brand in Singapore. They manufacture some of the best kitchen appliances and accessories. Their designs and colours are timeless.
Sometimes the insulated lunch box is too big because I only wanted to pack the soup. So, it has its limitations. Vacuum flasks come in various sizes. 0.5 liter, 0.75 liter, 1 liter and so on. They are just nice to pack a big bowl of soup. Chunkier ingredients can be cut into smaller pieces to fit into the flasks.
My thermal flask for coffee and soups. Photo by Phoebe Lim
Selecting a good quality vacuum flask is important. Nothing irks more than leaky flasks and lukewarm soups. A good flask should be able to keep your soup hot for at least 5 hours. The ones from Japan such as Tiger and Zojirushi are really good. They are esthetically pleasing and functional. Many come with nice carrier bags. But they are quite expensive.
A close second is Thermos. A friend swears by their Thermos Steel Bottle. She said they are sturdy and can keep her drinks hot for up to 7-8 hours.
Recently I came to know about the Thermos food jar. It is great for packing soups to work. And they are not expensive at all. Think of all the lunch money you can save by packing your favourite soup to work.
Electric lunch box
I came across this new gadget called the electric lunch box. It is the size of a typical vacuum lunch jar but comes with a small electric heating element. I knew I must have it. It is great for heating up food or steaming small portion of food.
These are the 2 I bought.
Here's a video of it being used to make congee and soup.